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Soon, a mellow yellow

The current paint job on the Skyway bridge will be stripped off and four new coats applied in a process expected to last 425 days.

By MELANIE AVE
Published July 14, 2006


[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
The cable stays of the Sunshine Skyway bridge show the peeling paint that will soon be replaced.

ST. PETERSBURG -- From far away, the Sunshine Skyway bridge appears as spectacular as ever, its yellow cable stays rising majestically over the Tampa Bay shipping channel.

But up close, peeling paint on the cables reveals two different colors of yellow; one taxicab bright, one dull.

To fix the problem, the 197-foot bridge between St. Petersburg and Bradenton will get a much-needed makeover, starting this fall.

The Florida Transportation Department will select a contractor later this month to repaint the bridge's 42 steel cables one consistent shade of yellow. The concrete barrier walls will be off-white.

All the paint will be stripped off and four new coats will be reapplied in a process expected to take 425 days.

"It'll remain all one color," said Marian Scorza, a Transportation Department spokeswoman. "The paint will help with corrosion but it's also for aesthetics."

Expected to cost about $4.7-million, the maintenance project will be the first full painting of the Skyway since it opened. The lighting on the bridge will also be tweaked.

To state Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, it's about time.

"It's absolutely ridiculous the Transportation Department has not maintained that bridge," he said.

He questioned why more of the toll revenue collected on the bridge have not gone back into its upkeep.

An average of 44,000 cars a day cross the Sunshine Skyway. Last year, the state collected $17-million in tolls on the bridge and spent $5-million on operating and maintaining it.

"They've got the money," Bennett said.

"Spend it on what it was designed for. The Sunshine Skyway is a gateway across Tampa Bay.

"People come from miles away and say, 'Oh my goodness, are these people ever going to finish the job?' "

Scorza said she would have to further research how the bridge's toll revenue was used.

But she said the department has spent $15-million in maintaining the bridge in the last five years.

That work included repairing concrete cracks, joint leaks, corrosion and tendon failures.

"We've spent a lot of money on the bridge," she said.

"Now what we're trying to do is get it painted."

The purpose of the last paint job in 1998 was to touch up rusted areas, but it created the existing patchy effect, Scorza said.

The newer, environmentally safe paint faded faster than expected.

"Regardless of how the paint looked," she said, "it did what we needed it to do, protect the steel."

The new painting should not result in the same two-tone effect, Scorza said, since all of the old paint will be removed.

Last year, Bradenton resident Ann Jerman, 75, became so upset with the bridge's looks - "like a bad case of the measles" - she complained in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I asked, who's responsible for this bridge," she said. "It's such a shame."

After hearing the paint project was about to begin, Jerman said she will write thank-you notes to state officials for actually doing what they said they were going to do.

"I am just so pleased," she said.

While some people may see the $4.7-million price tag as a waste of money, other states spend far more keeping their bridges spiffy.

The California Transportation Department spends about $1-million a year on maintenance on the Vincent Thomas Bridge, including year-round painting to keep it looking fresh.

About $5-million a year is spent on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, which receives about 21,000 gallons of paint annually.

Alan Phillips, 60, said the Sunshine Skyway's appearance matters. It's often shown on television and in films, including John Travolta's The Punisher, released in 2004.

He sees the bridge as a visual symbol for St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area overall.

The Travel Channel listed the bridge as No. 3 on its program, the Top 10 Bridges. It was below San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which held the No. 1 ranking, but ahead of New York's Brooklyn Bridge.

"It's a national bridge," said Phillips, owner of O'Neill's Marina near the skyway. "It's recognized all over the world.

"If we have a bridge that's nationally recognized, wouldn't we want it to be as nice as possible?"

San Antonio teacher Lisa Gray, 50, illustrated his point.

She and her husband saw the bridge on television and wanted to cross it before heading home to Texas from their Florida vacation.

On Thursday, she paused from taking pictures from a rest area at the base of the bridge and said, "It looks awesome to me."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727)893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 00:57:22]


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